Capture the Flag
With its low-rise mix of used-car lots, small manufacturers, storefront churches, and especially Ecuadorian, Colombian, Dominican, and Mexican restaurants and bodegas, Northern Boulevard is our Los Angeles.
Swooping westward from Shea Stadium, it's a conduit of fast-moving cars that don't slow down one bit for the stretch on either side of 100th Street designated Langston Hughes Walk. Near the corner is El Patio, a restaurant that blazes with neon late into the night. The entrance is cloaked in flagstone and features a lonely potted plant, giving the impression that the premises might have once been a Greek diner. Indeed, the combination of breakfasts, cut-price lunches, and sprawling dinner entrées neatly fits the diner formula, but with home-style Ecuadorian fare.
Depending on how hungry you are, you can begin a meal with little snacks like corn-husk-wrapped humitas ($3), like Mexican tamales only sweeter. Instead of meat or chicken, these linear puddings are studded with corn kernels. Another typical starter is ceviche camarones ($10), a soupy marinade of red onions, lime juice, and cilantro featuring decent-sized shrimp. Unlike Mexican ceviches, which are dressed, tossed, and soon served, the Ecuadorian version is more of a cold summer soup, and the marinade should be drunk as a sort of lumpy South American gazpacho.
100-14 Northern Boulevard
Engagingly, the front window offers a brief catalog of typical Ecuadorian food, divided, somewhat dubiously, into dishes from the Pacific coast (Costa), the Andes region (Sierra), and the Amazonian interior (Oriente). Guinea pig, probably the national dish, is not listed. This is a diner after all, and imported cuyso named because of the squealing sound it makes when you catch itis way too pricey. But there are plenty of chances to sample llapingachos, another national obsession. These pancakes of potatoes and white cheese, tinted a brilliant orange with achiote, are a rare instance of Inca-conquistador cooperation: The Spaniards supplied the cheese and the Indians furnished the potatoes.
Hungry folks will go right for the big platters, which typically supplement a stew of meat, chicken, or fish with a shifting combination of supporting players, including a rudimentary onion-heavy salad, twice-fried plantains, mote (whole hominy kernels), soupy red beans, polished white rice, and the aforementioned llaphingachos. Nearly everything is flavored to one extent or another with lime juice. Strewn with chopped green onions and spiked with lime, seco de chivo ($8) is one of the best entrées, a plate of goat stew on the bone, abundant enough to keep you gnawing for a good 15 minutes. Guatita is a fever-yellow tripe stew, while hornado is a magnificent salty pork roast, pulled from the whole pig in big, coarse-textured hanks. But you don't have to choose among them at alljust order bandera ecuatoriana ("Ecuadorian flag," $11), an oblong platter flaunting the national colors, as represented by servings of shrimp ceviche, goat stew, and tripe with potatoes.
For lighter appetites, there are soups, meals in themselves with plenty of starchy elements. It was inevitable that we should compare the two hen soups offered, one attributed to the mountains (serrana, $7.50), the other to the coastal lowlands (costa, $7). The sierra version is rife with potatoes and boiled eggs, the seaboard version with yuca and rice. Why the 50 cent difference?
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